Will Trump Election Bring Back Isolationism and Threaten NATO?

Yves here. An attempt to look beyond Trump’s and his opponents’ rhetoric by focusing on his past actions.

By Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts. Originally published at InfoBRICS

ndian academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a former president of the Centre for Policy Research, writes that a Trump election would be a threat for democracy in the US. Other experts have argued Trump could endanger NATO and bring back American isolationism. Things might not be quite so simple, though.

As I wrote recently, besides the much talked about issue of NATO’s enlargement, one should also consider the expansion of the US infamous Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): according to a recent New York Time’s exposé, in the past decade the Agency has backed a “network of spy bases” in Ukraine, including “12 secret locations along the Russian border” and a “secret intelligence partnership” has transformed the country into “one of Washington’s most important intelligence partners against the Kremlin.” Commenting on that, Mark Episkopos, a Eurasia Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, highlights the fact that such a CIA-Ukraine partnership actually “deepened under the Trump administration, yet again putting the lie to the baseless idea that former President Trump was somehow amenable to Russia’s interests while in office.”

Moreover, in December 2017 then US President Donald Trump sold Kyiv “defensive” weapons, which, according to University of Chicago political science professor John Mearsheimer, “certainly looked offensive to Moscow and its allies in the Donbas region.” Of course, Ukrainian-American ties grew under US incumbent president Joe Biden, with 2021 Operation Sea Breeze’ provocations the U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership the same year, and much more, all the way to today’ crisis. The point however is that albeit arguably less blatantly hostile to Moscow (in some areas), it would be inaccurate to describe the previous Trump presidency as anything remotely similar to a “pro-Russian” administration.

It is true that last month, speaking at a rally, Trump said he once told an unnamed NATO ally that he would not, as the president, defend allies who fail to meet the Alliance’s defense spending duties. According to himself, he said: “You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent? No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.” This kind of rhetoric, though, typical as it is of the former president style, should rather be interpreted as pre-election rhetoric to inflame his base – plus as a valid criticism, from an American perspective, of the fact that most NATO countries do fail to meet the agreed expenses’ goal of using at least 2 percent of their GDP in military spending.

This of course overburdens Washington – at the expense of its taxpayers.Trump’s (rhetorical) point has been denounced by many as a serious threat of letting Russia “conquer” much of Europe. In the real world, though,  Moscow has no goal of conquering Ukraine (as any serious expert will tell you – its mains concerns being about NATO enlargement), much less any interest in invading NATO countries in Western Europe and thus bringing about Third World War – and, even if that were the case, the United States, with or without Trump, would of course have its own strategic reasons to oppose such hypothetical scenario by coming to the defense of its European allies, be they delinquent or not.

In the make-believe world of pro-Biden propagandists, Trump is a kind of “Russian agent” hell-bent on destroying American hegemony globally and thus letting “evil” prevail. The fantasies of some of the more naïve analysts of an “anti-imperialist” persuasion are quite similar, the only difference being that they perceive that to be a good thing and imagine the Republican favorite as a champion of multipolarity, world peace, and even of the Global South, if you will (Venezuelans might differ). None of that should be taken seriously, but, unfortunately, in the age of propaganda and of information warfare, it often does.

Rhetorics aside, far from being a marginal stance, the notion that military victory in Ukraine is unattainable is slowly gaining ground amid the American Establishment. Trump could arguably be a little more quick to let it go, but that is all. James Stavridis, former  NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, writing for Bloomberg in November 2023, for instance, argued that Washington should learn from “the lessons of South Korea” and negotiate a “land for peace” deal to end combat in Ukraine. This scenario would involve a kind of strategic retreat, from a Western perspective, to then invest in Western Ukraine, so to speak, so as to nurture it as a kind of Eastern European South Korea (with a persistent CIA presence, one could expect).

It is not always over even when it is “over”: such a scenario would clearly not do much for regional stability or peace in the long run. As I’ve written on more than one occasion, even after peace is achieved, as long as the Russian minority remains marginalized in Ukraine and as long as NATO enlargement continues, there will still be plenty of room for tension and conflict.

There is yet another issue: with the escalation of conflict in Palestine, the center of gravity for global tensions has changed. Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza and the West Bank, plus its operation in Syria and Lebanon, are also part of the Jewish state’s “non-official war” against Iran, with global consequences. The current crisis in the Red Sea, involving the Houthis is largely a collateral effect of the US-backed disastrous Israeli campaign in the Levant. Well, it turns out Trump is, by all indication, more of an unconditional supporter of Israel than Biden is – no matter how many red lines are crossed by the Jewish state in the Middle East. One may recall that it was then president Trump who assassinated Iranian general Soleimani, for instance. Recently, Trump has famously stated that Tel Aviv must “finish the problem.”

When interviewed for a Boston Globe’s story titled “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change”, in 2014, Michael J. Glennon, professor of international law at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (and author of “National Security and Double Government”), explained that much of the US foreign policy “programs” are, as John Kerry once famously said, “on autopilot”, and that “policy after policy after policy all continue virtually the same way that they were in the George W. Bush administration.” This situation is explained by this analyst with the concept of a “double government”, which is how he describes an almost self-governing defense and national security apparatus that operates in the United States without much accountability. Glennon’s aforementioned book was praised by former members of the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and the White House. There is no reason to assume its conclusions are less true today.

To sum it up, there are limits on how much change a US president, on its own, can bring about to the superpower’s system of “double government” in terms of defense and foreign policy. The center of gravity of global tensions is changing, and Ukraine is no longer that important, to put it bluntly. Finally, Trump’s record as a former president in no way allows for a description of his administration either as “isolationist” or as “pro-Russian”.

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  1. Yaiyen

    No, why would it when Trump own stocks in weapon manufacturing companies. More like he will push these nation to buy more weapons from USA, these country is USA vassals that is the biggest reason they hate Trump he openly show people these country real color

  2. Mikel

    “bring back American isolationism”

    People talk and write like colonial America was recent history.

    1. Joe Well

      I think they mean the interwar period. “Good Neighbor” policy in the Americas and avoidance of European issues.

  3. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    “Indian academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a former president of the Centre for Policy Research, writes that a Trump election would be a threat for democracy in the US. Other experts have argued Trump could endanger NATO and bring back American isolationism.”

    Your introduction could equally apply to Richard Murphy, Danny Blanchflower, Frances Coppola and other, apparently, British left of centre academics. TDS and P(utin)DS affects them as much as it does centrists. No amount of explaining that Trump is a symptom and it’s not just Putin will convince them. These issues are also personalised by all of them to an unhealthy degree, e.g. Putin owns Gazprom. Yes, really.

    (The above said, the Grauniad beat them over the week-end by publishing a comment BTL that Russia organised the strikes, including miners, that affected the UK in the 1970s and 1980s and is responsible for global warming. Lots of up votes.)

    After some years away, I have been involved with regulatory and trade policy since November. The PMC and, to use Aurelien / David’s term, the inner party are doubling down on a range of issues. If there’s one thing that I would wish (ordinary) Americans to see is how the European PMC / elite sees them as cannon fodder, hence the casual (chicken) hawkishness, and holds them and, what little they know of, American culture, and America outside ACELA and California, in contempt. If that was to happen, US forces* would be out of Europe overnight.

    *I am aware that most of the forces deployed in Europe were and are European, not American, and most of the fighting would have been or would be done by European forces.

    You have often said that one should see what Trump does, not listen to what he says. That still holds true.

    1. CA

      “Your introduction could equally apply to Richard Murphy, Danny Blanchflower, Frances Coppola and other, apparently, British left of centre academics. TDS and P(utin)DS affects them as much as it does centrists. No amount of explaining that Trump is a symptom and it’s not just Putin will convince them. These issues are also personalised by all of them to an unhealthy degree, e.g. Putin owns Gazprom. Yes, really…”

      Important observation. Please remember as well that when Jeremy Corbyn was elected, by a decisive vote, to lead Labour, every Labour economic adviser quickly resigned. Also, the supposedly neutral BBC actually portrayed Corbyn as Russian and the supposedly left of centre Guardian became even worse in portrayal of Corbyn.

    2. Feral Finster

      If there is one benefit to a Trump presidency, it is that America’s lackeys, toadies, vassals and buttbois might be less likely to blindly follow orders from a President Trump. Also, the MSM might actually question American policy, even as they spent most of their time hawking crackpot conspiracy theories.

  4. The Rev Kev

    I don’t think that Trump has much time for Europe as they do not have much time for him. He has little respect for the weak leaders that he sees – people like Sunak, Macron & Scholz – and here I may have to agree with him. He does however respect competent leadership hence his visit by Hungary’s Orbán though the media tries to portray him as authoritarian. So I think that his business instincts kick in and he sees NATO as a transactional institute in which NATO countries pay the US for protection. And of course his base laps that all up. But as for the Ukraine, he sees that it has gone bust and wants to cut it loose like a bankrupt business. I think that he believes that he can dictate terms to Russia but they are not on the same page here. Unless those terms ensure Russian war aims, they will not be interested in a Trump deal which he will fail to understand.

    As for Gaza and the West Bank, it will depend on what the situation on the ground is like by next January. A lot can happen between now and then. As President, Trump gave Israel everything that they wanted so if it is possible, he will recognize Gaza and the West Bank as Israeli territory. But for that to happen, Israeli will have to win and there are a lot of factors in play before he gets near the Oval Office. He may be constrained by how much the US has changed since he left office as the US is coming up winchester on ammo and missiles. But NATO and the Middle east are for him distractions as he wants to hunt the big elephant – China. And the Republicans will back him on this as will the deep state. depends on how China responds this time around.

    1. CA

      “NATO and the Middle east are for him distractions as he wants to hunt the big elephant – China. And the Republicans will back him on this as will the deep state. Depends on how China responds this time around.”

      Importantly so. China however was already 32.4% larger in real GDP than the EU and 24.7% larger in real GDP than the US in 2023, and is fortunately already far beyond being hunted. China will do what it has been doing, which is to grow an increasingly advanced technology and equitable economy for a country that is beyond being hunted and will assist other countries as asked.

      1. rubicon

        As Dr. MIchael Hudson has repeatedly pointed out – the US GDP is largely based on the Profits the Super Wealthy earn on the market. Very little of that flows into the US economy.

        The US “government” has been taken over by the immense power of its Privatized Financial World:: The FED, Big Banks/Big Real Estate, Big Insurance, and Big Finance…….As a result, the US’ GDP is in reality about 1.0-2.0%%%.

        China’s GDP is largely based on what it produces and trades w/ other nations. Unlike the US “government,” the Chinese “government” is State Controlled.

  5. mrsyk

    This reads like a hit piece on Trump. Are we not already on the fast track towards isolationism, courtesy of clinging to the idea of American hegemony in a rapidly changing global power dynamic, earning the ire of pretty much everyone along the way?

  6. ilsm

    Russia has watched its neighbors fall like dominoes into NATO. Stalin’s, traditional Russian, desire for a buffer against the old enemies has been subverted. Subverted to US economics/lifestyle!

    Isolation is not a bad thing given the web of adversaries in old Europe.

    US/NATO is doing to Russia what NATO was to prevent from USSR.

    1. jrkrideau

      I am sorry, I don’t disagree with your premise but Stalin’s, traditional Russian, … is funny. Stalin was Georgian and, reportedly, spoke with Russian with a strong Georgian accent all his life. One of the thing that seems to have turned him against tho Imperial Gov’t was the banning of anything but Russian as a language in schools (seminaries?)

    2. Morincotto

      An american lifestyle that is of course almost completely illusiory, has little to do with the lifes of most actual Americans and that of course is 100% guaranteed to never materialize in any of these countries.

  7. Feral Finster

    Trump will do no such thing, as if he were to make even the most tentative moves in that direction, the howls of “Putin puppet!” would be overwhelming, and if we learned nothing else from 2016-2020, it is that Trump is weak, stupid and easily manipulated.

    Just as only Nixon could go to China, only Biden can end the War On Russia, not that he is likely to do so.

    1. nippersdad

      “…only Biden can end the War On Russia,”

      Do you think he is going to be given an alternative? Most of the analysts I am reading predict that it will all be over except for the whimpering by July, August at the latest.

      1. Feral Finster

        We’ve been hearing that since February, 2022, The West continues to escalate and continues to double down, having lost any fear of Russian retaliation.

      2. BeliTsari

        Remember, when he “ended two decades’ hostilities in Afghanistan, by their kicking our ass in three weeks, after the harvest?

  8. David in Friday Harbor

    I have been saying since The Apprentice was airing weekly on NBC that Trump is a symptom, not the disease.

    The “containment” script is about to be flipped. When Gaza and the West Bank are ethically cleansed — enabled by Biden and sanctified by Trump (they’re no different) — America will be devastated by the sanctions imposed when the international community finally musters the chutzpah to turn their backs on us.

    Then our dirtbag MIC war-profiteers stroking their neocon false beards will blame “isolationism” but it is they who have rendered America incapable of producing the very cans and wrappers to deliver our food, or the medical devices and drugs for our hospitals, or our phones and appliances, or even the clothing and shoes necessary to maintain our quality of life. No “dealmaker” is going to “Make America Great” then. It will be le déluge.

  9. JonnyJames

    Great points raised here.

    DT had a term already, and he appointed rabid neocons and “deep state” operatives Eliot Abrams, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo etc. Pompeo wanted to have Julian Assange murdered (as does HRC) because he embarrassed the deep state.

    And of course, DT is just as much of a genocidal Zionist as JB and the crew. What do we think would happen if he was anti-Israel, and not Israel First?
    All the bloviating and BS from the windbag is just that. Dude has been a BS artist and conman for decades, who can take freaks like JB or DT (or just about any “elected” official) seriously?

    The Russiagate BS and all the rest of the MassMedia BS is part of the illusion.

    Contrary to what some might think: The “deep state”, the oligarchy, LOVE DT. He is polarizing – great for perpetuating the illusion of democracy and choice. The MassMediaCartel, both the so-called liberal and conservative outlets, feature him nearly every single day – for almost a decade. The DT/JB show is great for ad sales, cheap entertainment and distraction; raising funds for Election Inc. as well.

  10. Victor Sciamarelli

    I completely agree with Uriel Araujo’s conclusion in his final sentence.
    American isolationism, imho, is a myth, though I expect it will be raised during the election campaign.
    Nonetheless, the origin of the myth is curiously relevant today. It was the post WWI decade, 1919-1930, in which political forces coalesced to oppose Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. Though there was broad agreement on the League, the fundamental objection was to Article 10 which provided mutual security; very similar to Article 5 in NATO.
    It was the conservatives that objected to the League and who understood to potential danger of Article 10 for the US, and who were incorrectly labeled isolationist.
    William Appleman Willians wrote, “The consensus that emerged was based on an agreement to push American overseas political and economic expansion, and on a further decision to avoid [by the so-called isolationists] the policy of collective security on the grounds that it might easily weaken the US, both defensively and offensively, by tying it to various features of the status quo that were sure to disappear—and others that ought to be altered by America itself.” (Eg., the end of the Cold War)
    Thus, imo, those who objected to the League’s collective security anticipated the problems created and now confronting the US in NATO, and Ukraine today.
    In opposition to the League’s collective security, Elihu Root, Sec of War and Sec of State wrote in 1919, “If perpetual, [Article 10] would be an attempt to preserve for all time unchanged the distribution of power and territory made in accordance with the views and exigencies of the Allies in this present juncture of affairs. It would necessarily be futile…It would not only be futile; it would be mischievous. Change and growth are the law of life, and no generation can impose its will in regard to the growth of nations and the distribution of power, upon succeeding generations.”

  11. Chris Maden

    A lot of “deep state” and “MSM” in this comment thread.

    I have no idea what “MSM” stands for and, as I only hear it, along with “deep state,” “the blob,” etc. from those who live their entire lives on the web, I have never bothered to find out.

    Not that the comments detract from the article. But “even after peace is achieved, as long as the Russian minority remains marginalized in Ukraine” is nonsense. There is no peace that would have the Russian-majority regions of Ukraine remain in Ukraine. Apart from anything else, the border of the Donbas region with western Ukraine is so heavily mined, there is no practical way to cross it.

    And “as long as NATO enlargement continues, there will still be plenty of room for tension and conflict.” Huh? China in the South China Sea? Russia in – you know – Ukraine? NATO is not the only one enlarging. And that, in a very finite planet whose resources are being recklessly over-exploited, is surely the actual problem?

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